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A Brief History of the Bikini

Updated on August 10, 2013
2006 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition
2006 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition
Popular suits at the turn of the 1800-1900 century
Popular suits at the turn of the 1800-1900 century
A bevvy of 1920s beauties
A bevvy of 1920s beauties
Site of the original nuclear testing (Marshall Islands)
Site of the original nuclear testing (Marshall Islands)

With summer on the horizon, many people are thinking about swimwear. One of the most popular styles for women is the 2-piece bikini. With many teeny-tiny versions available, its hard to believe that only a little more than 60 years have passed since the bikini first made its splash.

In the 1920s, and 30s, swimsuits were modest affairs. Nothing less than complete coverage of the torso and buttocks was required. A bit further back in history, women actually swam in dresses. There was absolutely no showing of cleavage, or legs above the knee.... heavens!

The first 2-piece suits actually came about as a result of war-time rationing during WWII in 1943. To save fabric, women's swimsuits did away with skirts, and midriffs were bared for the first time. But these early versions were still very modest. Nonetheless, these women were saluted by many for doing their patriotic duty!

Enter French engineer Louis Reard and designer Jacques Helm in 1946. Reard is primarily given credit for designing a 2-piece swimsuit that went much further than anything previously created. The original suit created by Reard was a mere 30 inches of fabric, that generally resembled a bra and underwear, tied together with strings. He wanted a huge unveiling in Paris, but he also needed a catchy name for the phenomenon that was about to be unleashed.

Who knew that the U.S. Navy was about to provide exactly what he was looking for (so to speak) on July 1, 1946, when it detonated an atomic bomb near several islands in the Marshall Islands, known as "Bikini Atoll." The explosion itself was the first of several tests known as Operation Crossroads, conducted to study the effects of nuclear explosions on equipment and ships (the first test was an aerial detonation, and the second test, conducted on July 25, 1946 was an underwater explosion). Although all residents of Bikini Atoll were evacuated for the tests, there remain concerns to the present day of the effects of the nuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands.

Nuclear Explosion at Bikini Atoll
Nuclear Explosion at Bikini Atoll
Jessica Biel
Jessica Biel

Geard seized upon the publicity of the Bikini Atoll bombings and opened up his poolside show in Paris four days later on July 5, 1946. He claims that the suit was named after the islands, but most agree that he sought to ride the wave of press at the time concerning the U.S. Navy's operations, instead.

The original bikini was so controversial that Geard could not convince regular models to wear it on the runway. A nude dancer strolled down the catwalk to show it off, which led to 50,000 letters of fan mail. It was advertised as "smaller than the world's smallest bathing suit." Although previous 2-piece swimsuits had been worn by women, this style was particularly risque, given its strong resemblance to lingerie and the fact that the navel would be showing. So, yes, in many respects the launching of the bikini was like dropping a bomb on the fashion world!

The world was stunned and outraged. Catholic countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy outlawed the swimsuit. Hollywood was pressured to keep it off the screen. One person said that "a bikini reveals everything about a woman except her mother's maiden name." As late as 1957, popular women's magazines were basically calling anyone who would dare wear the thing a tramp.

Just three years later, however, the popular song "Itsy-Bitsy-Teeny-Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" became a hit in 1960. Before long, teens were beach blanket boogieing in cute little 2-pieces. Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon starred in "Beach Party" in 1963, enticing women to purchase similar sexy swimsuits.

Hot Halle Berry
Hot Halle Berry

Fast Facts About the Bikini

  • 1946: The bikini is introduced by Louis Reard in Paris, France
  • 1951: Contestants in the Miss World contest are prohibited from wearing bikinis; more modest one-piece suits are allowed
  • 1950s: Bridgette Bardot's wearing of the swimsuit helped its "exposure" in Europe, and later in 1957 in the United States
  • 1960: "Itsy-Bitsy-Teeny-Weeny-Yellow-Polka-Dot Bikini" song is sung by Brian Hyland. Teenage girls go on shopping sprees to buy the infamous 2-piece
  • 1962: Ursula Andress emerges from the sea in the James Bond movie, "Dr. No," in a belted white bikini. Whoa. 40 years later, Halle Berry reprises the scene in a gorgeous orange bikini as Bond's nemesis in "Die Another Day."
  • 1966: Raquel Welch models a cave-man bikini in "One Million Years B.C." Who cares if there was a worthy plot?
  • 1970s: Introducing the "Tanga Suit," aka thong bikini, thanks to St. Tropez and Rio
  • 1983: Another movie milestone. Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia enthralls even Jabba the Hut in her bikini-styled costume
  • 1993: Gabrielle Reece shows a strong, sporty style to the infamous suit by playing some incredible beach volleyball
  • 1995: The microkini is named for the extremely tiny, barely covering your private parts swimsuits that are said to "fill a niche between nudism and conservative swimwear." At times, the swatches of fabric are held together with fishing wire or adhesive.

The swimsuit now has a world-wide acceptance
The swimsuit now has a world-wide acceptance

If You Didn't Come For the History Lesson

Click thumbnail to view full-size

The swimsuit has had a rich history, from frumpy to barely there. Considering the 1940s era in which the bikini was introduced, it is surprising that it gained popularity as quickly as it did (revealing, sexy nature aside). Today, the challenge is to find a suit that is flattering, yet fashionable at the same time. Fortunately, you don't have to be a fashion model to wear the bikini style. Two-piece swimsuits can be worn by anyone in any shape, particularly if you are confident enough to carry it off. Check out Bikini Bods

Today, the bikini is the most purchased swimwear by young women. This is a somewhat amazing, considering the early predictions, as recently as the late 1950s that the suit would never catch on in the States, and would have to remain worn exclusively by the extroverted French women.

Next time you're considering a suit purchase (or wondering why your daughter is insisting on such a small number), reflect on the bikini's beginnings, from war rationing efforts, to the French designer's atomic bomb!

You can even doll up your dog!
You can even doll up your dog!

© 2008 Stephanie Hicks


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    • Mithuhassan1 profile image

      Mithu Hassan 4 years ago from Dhaka, Bangladesh

      Very informative post !

    • C. Betancourt profile image

      C. Betancourt 8 years ago

      Great info and excellent page! Bikini's are awesome :)

    • profile image

      urimidden 8 years ago Just thought I would let you know there is an article with the identicle title at this website, posted June 27. Don't have ime to read them, just letting you know in case u want to check it out for plagiarism.

    • Pretty Model Girl profile image

      Pretty Model Girl 9 years ago from Tempe, AZ

      Best. Invention. Ever. Enough said...

    • profile image

      gizmoya 9 years ago

      superb article thx woila thx

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Steph, it would be pretty heavy swimming in skirts and shirts. Hahaha That was the time I appreciated the bathing suit. (Chuckles) But I guess there is that and there is so little of the suit left. :)

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you Compu-Smart and gloycodoc!

      Michelle - I had to include that photo of the dog in the bikini! I can only imagine what it must be like in the provinces of your country. There are times when I feel like it might be a pleasant change from so much skin here! :-)

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Hi Steph, I was smiling all through out this hub....and the cutie doggy. LOL Well, today I just got "educated" you know in the provinces of our country, you still see some people wearing dresses to the beach, or skirt and t-shirt. It took me awhile to get use to wearing a swimsuit when I lived in the city. :)

    • glycodoc profile image

      glycodoc 9 years ago

      Well done & interesting hub - great photos.

    • compu-smart profile image

      Compu-Smart 10 years ago from London UK

      Mmm very tempting:)

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks About-the-Home and Sweetie Pie. Pictures aside, it was fun to learn some history. :-) Compu-Smart.... More fodder for your colorful Hubs!

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 10 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I remember you said you were planning to write this hub, and I am glad I finally found it. Good information about the history of the bikini. I like the pictures :) Very cute!

    • About-The-Home profile image

      About-The-Home 10 years ago

      There's not much further bikinis can go.

      Sometimes an air of mystery is better, but on the other hand, I am programmed to look!!

    • compu-smart profile image

      Compu-Smart 10 years ago from London UK

      Mmmm Yeah!! Nice collection:)

      I wonder what the future styles of bikinis will look like? Infact i am looking forward to seeing very much!!

    • Pat Merewether profile image

      Pat Merewether 10 years ago from Michigan

      Interesting article. I read somewhere that Bikin's weren't allowed for sale in the US until the mid 1960's. I bought a purple polka-dot Bikini in 1964 (pink polka dots). I was on vacation with my friend in Florida. My tummy was so sunburned after the first day on the beach that I couldn't wear anything else! ouch. Back then I wanted to show off as much of my 'bod' as I could - lately it's the opposite, lol. It was great fun back then and I'm glad I did it!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Just_Rodney! Incredible. Thanks for adding some additional perspective to the Hub. Raky, thank you for reading and commenting.

    • Just_Rodney profile image

      Rodney Fagan 10 years ago from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City

      I love your 'effects of global warming' it reminded me of those early days of my youth. In South Africa, the bikinis were banned and any one wearing these in public were prosecuted for indecent exposure. This is not a joke, another thing the bikini was blamed for, by the Church, was the droughts, that we had been experiencing for the then past ten years.

      As they always say

      Belief it or not.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Alki Beach - you were not looking LOL! ;-)

    • Minnie's Mom profile image

      Minnie's Mom 10 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Where did you get that picture of me above Jessica Biel. The dog is a cutey patootie. I love the "through the years" video. Your blogs rock !

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Well thanks Patty, for helping educate me more! I'm really enjoying all the comments - Eileen, Lady Luck, yes - how times change! Whitney, I remember getting that photo in an email recently, so I looked it up and added it. It really says it all! :-)

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 10 years ago from Georgia

      I love the time line. It definitely shows the changes throughout time.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Steph - that's hilarious! And I did not know Beanie and Cecil were puppets or that they came back as late as 1988. What fun! :)


    • lady luck profile image

      lady luck 10 years ago from Boston

      GREAT HUB, imiss the bikinis from the 50s and 60s ....i should have been around then, i swear, im from a different time ill prolly never be able to wear a teeny weenie bikini

    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 10 years ago from Northam Western Australia

      That was really terrific stroll down memory lane. and we used to love that song. Have to admit I thought they were great to wear. When I look back at some of the shorts I used to wear I sort of shudder now. But thought nothing of it back then in my 30-40's.(age) not 1930's. not quite that old. Thanks for giving us that.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      LOL, John! I'm glad that someone else enjoyed my humor!

    • John Chancellor profile image

      John Chancellor 10 years ago from Tennessee


      I am still chuckling about the title - A "Brief" history of the Bikini. I am glad you were not writing about underwear. That would have been A Brief history of the Brief.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Ok, Patty, I found some good stuff on Beanie and Cecil, but no references (yet) on Bikini Atoll (or No Bikini at all). By the way, SpongeBob SquarePants and his friends live on Bikini Bottom, beneath Bikini Atoll. Beanie and Cecil started as puppets in the 1940s and have been on ABC in cartoon form as recently as 1988.

      Update: Check out this exchange from a 1959 Beanie and Cecil cartoon. Clearly there was some sarcasm intended:

      "Bridge of Bardot?" good one

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I hope you enjoy it. Please let us know if there is more to it than just the cartoon reference. I've learned about some political sarcasm and such in Tom Terrific and Rocky and His Friends as well. :)

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Patty! No, I haven't seen the cartoons, but I did see a reference to "No Bikini At-All" in my research. I'll look it up! Thanks!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Have you ever seen the very old Beanie and Cecil The Seaesick Sea Serpent cartoons, in which they claim to live on "No Bikini At-All"? I think the strange but funny series was from the early 1960s.


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